Sunday, December 30, 2012

Too Much, Too Little, Too Slate

Last night I saw The Dark Knight Rises on pay-per-view, and I have to say it was a depressing, oddly unspectacular spectacle of a movie.  Too long, too precious with its own sense of sociological importance, and way too dark.  Too "dark" in the sense that the cinematographer took The Godfather movies way too seriously, and too "dark" in the sense that the director and screen-writers took the comic-book mythology, and themselves, way too seriously.  The movie indulges in a kind of Call of Duty: Black Ops campiness in which tragedy becomes a sordid byproduct of machine-guns and stupid costumes.  Throw in a little Dickensian pathos (orphaned boys in the sewers) and a little Dictatorship of the Proletariat doing the halftime show at the Superbowl and there you have it:  too much, too little, too slate.

All kinds of attempts are made at emotional resonance, but in the end it's just what it is:  a slow-paced, self-indulgent paean to self-indulgence.  And Christian Bale really is the centerpiece of that self-involved sensibility.  When he's not in the Batman get-up he's doing a self-pitying tango with his grown-in-isolation goatee, and when he's in the Batman get-up his voice goes into a chainsaw hyper-masculine contralto that has the humorous suspiciousness of a little kid trying to sound like a big kid.  Anne Hathaway tries her best as the Catwoman, and god love her she seems to be the only soul this movie has.  She plays it for laughs at times, but also seems to get that the seriousness can be used to good effect when you're not pouting and posing all the time.

The whole creepy enterprise is haunted by what happened in Aurora, Colorado of course.  That adds to the strange stupidity of it all, especially when channeled through the arch villain Bane, a Darth-Vader-masked big-mouthed Anglophile thug who spouts Marxist/Leninist bull shit, and who delights in being "eveeeel."

By the end I felt sick and tired of being sick and tired.  All that effort just to make the world seem worse than it is, so a bunch of dumbasses in kinky black outfits can ride around in souped-up helicopters and tanks blasting away at fake concrete buildings. 

At least The Avengers had a sense of humor and proportion.  A little old-fashioned self-consciousness goes a long way.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Ghost Freeway

I just posted this on the Raymond Thunder-Sky blog I manage  (

In October, we asked a few Thunder-Sky fans to come together to help us envision the future for the joint.   One image we all kept coming back to is the wrecking ball.   Many times organizations built to help/support non-traditional, unconventional, just plain weird people end up monuments to the status quo.  One thing we want to ensure with this gig: we always think beyond a building, and we always keep Raymond’s transience and weirdness at the center of our decision-making process.

We are going into the fourth year of Thunder-Sky, Inc., and I guess I could list accomplishments (I have on Facebook and other places), but really what I want to do is theorize a way to be productive and organized without being an Organization.  We're a non-profit, have our 501c3 and all that, in place.  We have a small board and advisory board, but I have intentionally kept all of this as informal as possible so that all the organizational stuff does not infringe on the reason we're doing what we're  doing.  Thunder-Sky, Inc. is an open book, funded mostly through art sales and donations.  We haven't really pursued grants because again I don't want grant proposals to infringe on the reason we're doing what we're doing.  We have not hired anyone to do anything.  We just keep on doing what we do.

For what reason?

To create a gallery/museum/studio/organization/whatever that never becomes an institution of any kind.  "Institution," of course, is a very loaded word.  So let's just get right down to it.  Here's the cold, hard Webster definition:

institution [in-sti-too-shuh n, -tyoo-noun

1.  an organization, establishment, foundation, society, or the like, devoted to the promotion of a particular cause or program, especially one of a public, educational, or charitable character: This college is the best institution of its kind. 
2. the building devoted to such work.
3. a public or private place for the care or confinement of inmates, especially mental patients or other disabled or handicapped persons.
4. Sociology . a well-established and structured pattern of behavior or of relationships that is accepted as a fundamental part of a culture, as marriage: the institution of the family.

The essence of all these definitions is particularity, devotion, confinement, and structure.  I think we have the particularity and devotion covered; it's the other two that kind of complicate things.  Raymond's nature confounded and perturbed:  he was devoted to escaping confinements of all kinds, and as far as structures, he advocated in almost ever drawing he did the demolition of structures that were often mainstays of culture and society.  Prisons, schools, hospitals, and nursing homes were always on his wrecking-ball's radar.  He seemed to find immense joy in destroying what had taken often decades, maybe even centuries, to construct.  One bold whack of the wrecking-ball, and it's all gone, only to be replaced by what can never really be there:  a card-trick clown-suit factory here, a new ghost freeway there.

Raymond's imagination, in other words, delighted in destruction and disorganization.  And in order to build an organization that is inspired by that chaotic bliss, we need to take into account every step we make organizationally.

This is not an easy sale, of course, in the conventional sense of fundraising, board-building, etc.  It's kind of like a parody of it.

So we try to keep everything as simple as possible.  Small board, no paid staff, a little space, six shows a year, a few shows outside of the space we're in, a Saturday art-making workshop for whoever shows up...

As we try to establish this kind of disorganization/organization, paradoxically building a future for it, we're going to need people on board with us who can bifurcate their thinking, redefine what they think an organization is supposed to be and do, and also perhaps understand the unnerving power of transience.  Raymond was always on the move.  Although he was never homeless, he was always searching for a place to be aesthetically, maybe even spiritually.  He rode the public bus and walked city streets in the hunt of it, always dressed in his scary/sweet clown/construction-worker drag.  His presence often bewildered, and even sometimes agitated, fellow travelers.  He got beat up at times for being that figure.  He probably got used to suspicious stares.  But he knew in his heart that he had to get somewhere.

Can we build an organization based on that disarming impermanence?

I guess we'll see...

In October, we had eight like-minded individuals come together and seem to think that we can.  In February we're going to try another round of brainstorming on the subject...  On Raymond's birthday, February.  Freaks welcome.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Fart Jokes

I stumbled across The Nutty Professor this week -- the one with Eddie Murphy as a morbidly obese professor who through a labratory mistake turns into a sleek lounge-lizard, a remake of the Jerry Lewis gig.  The center of this daisy though is The Klumps, who would earn top billing in the sequel a couple years later (the one with Janet Jackson in it).  The Klumps make their debut at the dinner table, and it is a tour-deforce, each member of the clan given specific personalities, voices, the works by Murphy the Master Mocker.  But Murphy's performances in this scene, as Papa and Mama Klump, Grandma Klump and Big Bad Brother Klump (with Nephew Klump played by a child actor), are the only soul in an otherwise clunky, soulless movie.  It's kind of like Murphy riffing on The Carol Burnett Show's Family skit, with Burnett as Eunice, and Vickie Lawrence as Mama.  The pleasure of seeing families burlesqued like this is that while the humor is broad and crude it makes you also realize how life is just like that:  broad and crude and stupid and more often than not funny. 

The funniest part of the Klump's dinnertime episode comes from farting.

Papa Klump farts, the Nephew Klump farts, and I think even Grandma Klumps goes at it.  It's a chorus of farts only rivaled by the campfire farting in Blazing Saddles

Which brings me to this show we're going to present next year at Thunder-Sky, Inc. It's about farting.  Why?  Because David Jarred and Kenton Brett, two smart and smart-alecky artists, presented the idea to us:  an art exhibit called "The (f)Art Show."  Just like that.  Okay.  Let's do it. 

Farting seems to be both a metaphor and a condition that brings forth laughter and a universal response.  Plus farting and scatology in general are major motifs throughout literature and art -- beyond movies and TV even.  Take for example selected scenes from Aristophanes' The Clouds, Geoffrey Chaucer's The Miller's Tale, Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel, James Joyce's Ulysses, Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, and so on.  Or take a look at this:

This is a sculptural work by Chinese artist Chen Wenling, his take on the global financial crisis from 2009.  It was this photo, I think, that might have stirred David and Kenton into action.  Anyway, this is a fart joke on a grand scale, using gas as a way to satirize gas-bags.  The glory of it is its total clarity.  Nothing ambiguous about a fart. 

Or as Dante puts it in his famous Divine Comedy (the last line of Inferno Chapter XXI): "Ed elli avea del cul fatto trombetta."  Translated:  “And he used his ass as a trumpet.”

Monday, December 3, 2012

Welcome to the Hotel Synesthesia

I'm going to write a lot more about the 21C, the new art-museum/hotel that just opened here in Cincinnati for Aeqai, the online art journal I do some stuff for, but I wanted to just bask in the glow of the initial experience of going there.  We went last Friday night, and the place felt haunted and yet brand new simultaneously, packed with artsy middle aged married couples, many wearing the funky, stylized eye wear of Brooklyn hipsters and/or the funky, stylized scarves of ladies who lunch.  It was like a quiet, orderly carnival, with art everywhere, just everywhere, and people drinking in a plush bar, and the whole universe encapsulated by this European wonderfulness:  a classy hotel. 

Most of the art though is a little too rigidly contemporary and chalky and corporate for my taste.  Still I went through and it was a synesthesic experience:   your senses get overloaded not because there's so much to see, but because someone has taken the time to curate and structure so much art and art-like objects you feel like an art orphan trapped in a beautiful art orphanage.

Or Alice wandering room to room, floor to floor. No Mad Hatters though.  Just those whispering artsy middle aged married couples.

My favorite surprise:  a little boardroom on the second floor, claustrophobic and blond-wood-bureaucratic, with several Kara Walker cutouts beautifully framed and installed on all four walls.  Remember that scene in The Empire Strikes Back?  The one where Lando Calrissian fucks over Han, Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, and C3PO, escorting them to a conference room on Cloud City, and there sits Darth Vader at the breakfast nook?  That's the feeling I got:  a sweet, ironic little shock, Walker's silhouettes providing both respite and a weird, innocent terror.


Life of Pi is one of those movies that no longer is a movie in your head after you see it.  It's a pattern of wallpaper from your childhood, a beautiful/horrible incident that you recover from but never get over, a look a school-bus driver gives you in his rear view mirror, a fading sunset in the basement of your best friend's grandma's house after a flood...  In short it's pure poetry with an engine of narrative so efficient you don't feel the story as story, the movie as movie.  You feel the story as myth/nostalgia/ache/absurdity/beauty.  I could go on about how Ang Lee is a genius, about the CGI and the 3D effects, about the brevity and kindness of both the novel and the screenplay...  But I just want to concentrate on the experience of having gone through this "thing."  It's a dream that doesn't linger as much as reverberate, like post traumatic stress disorder. 

And then, toward the end, that tiger Pi loved and needed to love just walking away from him into the darkness of a jungle.  That's wisdom turned inside out, sentiment too.  Nothing means anything, and yet everything is alive with meaning. 

The best movie of the year.